Expedition to study polar bears and walruses | Polarjournal
The research vessel “Ivan Petrov” and the scientists shortly before departure in Arkhangelsk. (Photo: Rosneft)

On August 14, an expedition aboard the scientific research vessel “Ivan Petrov” departed from Arkhangelsk for Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land. The aim is to study polar bears and walruses. At the farewell ceremony of the “Ivan Petrov” was present the acting governor of the Arkhangelsk region Alexander Tsybulsky. The expedition is organized by Rosneft’s Arctic Science Center and the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution. This is already the second expedition within the project to study the Kara Barents Sea population of polar bears and Atlantic walruses.

In the north of the Franz-Josef-Land archipelago, a polar bear roams the area in search of seals, the main food of the king of the Arctic. (Image: Heiner Kubny)

“Within a month, scientists will observe and count the animals, which are in Russia’s Red Data Book,” Rosneft’s press service added. “Scientists will study the animals’ food supply and migration routes.”

The expedition participants are divided into two groups. One group will stay at Cape Zhelaniya, the northern tip of Severny Island of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, at a base of the Russian Arctic National Park. Group members will observe polar bears.

Oranskiy Island – while the walruses have laid down to rest on the shore, a polar bear lurks below the rocks to prey on a sick or young walrus. (Image: Heiner Kubny)

Walrus Research

The second group will head to the Oranskiy Islands, Franz Josef Land and Victoria Island to study the Atlantic walrus colonies. During all cruises, scientists will continue observations to discover animals on the ice or in the water. Counts with silent drones are planned for all known walrus colonies. This method was used a year ago and is considered safe and the least stressful for the animals.

In addition, scientists will deploy remotely operated underwater vehicles near discovered colonies to observe video footage of communities at the bottom of the ocean. “We will study the benthos, the foraging base, and the bottom animals around the walrus feeding grounds. We will also use video footage to study the benthos. For this purpose, we have underwater robots and cameras on board the ship,” said Victoria Melnikova, Moscow University representative. In this way, the experts evaluate the forage base in the area.

Benthic are the organisms that live at the bottom of the sea. The word benthos comes from the Greek and means “depths of the sea”. Benthic communities are complex and include a variety of animals, plants and bacteria from all levels of the food web. Mussels, worms, oysters, shrimp-like crustaceans, and clams are examples of benthic organisms. (Photo: Peter Leopold, Norsk Polarinstitutt)

The expedition aims to study the genetic diversity of the animals, their migration routes in relation to ice conditions, the incidence of disease and pollution. The installation of camera traps is planned, which will help to assess the composition of the animals lying on the Arctic islands.

In early 2020, Rosneft and the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment signed an agreement on cooperation within the framework of the National Project Ecology. Rosneft is implementing a corporate program to study, conserve and monitor key species – bioindicators of Arctic ecosystem sustainability. Besides polar bears and walruses, these include wild reindeer and ivory gulls, a rare seabird species listed in the Red Book of the Russian Federation.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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